Respiratory Therapists: Salary, career path, job outlook, education and more
- Education Required
- Respiratory therapists need at least an associates degree, but employers may prefer applicants who have a bachelors degree. Educational programs are offered by colleges and universities, vocationaltechnical institutes, and the Armed Forces. Completion of a program that is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Respiratory Care may be required for licensure.
- Job Outlook
The projected percent change in employment from 2016 to 2026: 23% (Much faster than average)
(The average growth rate for all occupations is 7 percent.)
- Respiratory therapists are licensed in all states except Alaska, where national certification is recommended, although not required. Licensure requirements vary by state; for most states they include passing a state or professional certification exam. For specific state requirements, contact the states health board.
- Median pay: How much do Respiratory Therapists make?
- $58,670 Annual Salary
- $28.21 per hour
Respiratory therapists care for patients who have trouble breathingfor example, from a chronic respiratory disease, such as asthma or emphysema. Their patients range from premature infants with undeveloped lungs to elderly patients who have diseased lungs. They also provide emergency care to patients suffering from heart attacks, drowning, or shock.
What do Respiratory Therapists do?
Respiratory therapists typically do the following:
- Interview and examine patients with breathing or cardiopulmonary disorders
- Consult with physicians to develop patient treatment plans
- Perform diagnostic tests, such as measuring lung capacity
- Treat patients by using a variety of methods, including chest physiotherapy and aerosol medications
- Monitor and record patients progress
- Teach patients how to take medications and use equipment, such as ventilators
Respiratory therapists use various tests to evaluate patients. For example, therapists test lung capacity by having patients breathe into an instrument that measures the volume and flow of oxygen when they inhale and exhale. Respiratory therapists also may take blood samples and use a blood gas analyzer to test oxygen and carbon dioxide levels.
Respiratory therapists perform chest physiotherapy on patients to remove mucus from their lungs and make it easier for them to breathe. Removing mucus is necessary for patients suffering from lung diseases, such as cystic fibrosis, and involves the therapist vibrating the patients rib cage, often by tapping the patients chest and encouraging him or her to cough.
Respiratory therapists may connect patients who cannot breathe on their own to ventilators that deliver oxygen to the lungs. Therapists insert a tube in the patients windpipe (trachea) and connect the tube to ventilator equipment. They set up and monitor the equipment to ensure that the patient is receiving the correct amount of oxygen at the correct rate.
Respiratory therapists who work in home care teach patients and their families to use ventilators and other life-support systems in their homes. During these visits, they may inspect and clean equipment, check the home for environmental hazards, and ensure that patients know how to use their medications. Therapists also make emergency home visits when necessary.
In some hospitals, respiratory therapists are involved in related areas, such as diagnosing breathing problems for people with sleep apnea and counseling people on how to stop smoking.
Careers for Respiratory Therapists
- Certified respiratory therapists
- Inhalation therapists
- Oxygen therapists
- Registered respiratory therapists